Thanks to Brookline PR, I got invited check out Winefest Calgary 2013, which took place last weekend – Friday, Feb 22 and Saturday, Feb 23, at the Stampede Big Four. Winefest is an annual event featuring local and international wines, port, sparkling, and dessert wines that usually takes place in February in both Edmonton and Calgary. This was my first time attending Winefest so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The format is similar to the Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival, except Winefest is an all-inclusive event so the admission tickets include all the wine samplings, a variety of hors d’oeuvres, as well as a complimentary Riedel wine glass and a Tasting Notebook. Tickets for the Friday and Saturday evening sessions were $80 and were sold out well in advance of the event. Tickets for the Saturday afternoon session were $75.
In terms of hors d’oeuvres selection, I was impressed with the variety and that there were quite a few vegetarian and gluten-free options so there would be something available for everyone. Here is a run down of what I sampled food-wise:
The Chickpea & Saffron Yogurt Puree with Roasted Vegetables on Rice Crisps (left) were one of the vegetarian and gluten-free options. For the meat-lovers, there were the Garlic Rosemary Bacon Braised Chicken with Wilted Spinach on Flatbread Crisps (right).
Next up were more vegetarian and gluten-free options. The Fresh Mozzarella, Yellow & Red Vine Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinaigrette on Toasted Crostinis (left) were another vegetarian option. I quite enjoyed them as they were a nice palate cleanser in between the wine tastings. Likewise, I loved the Smoked Salmon & Herb Boursin Mousse on Cucumber Rounds with Pickled Carrots (right), which also happened to be gluten-free. It was the perfect balanced bite. I liked the crunchiness of the cucumber against the creaminess of the smoked salmon and herb Boursin mousse.
My favourite, out of all the savoury hors d’oeuvres,was the Szechuan Orange Beef Served on Bannock. The beef was really moist, tender, and flavourful. The bannock squares were crisp and light.
In terms of sweet offerings, there were the Pistachio Topped Salted Chocolate Tartlets and gluten-free Mousse filled Chocolate Cups featuring Blood Orange with White Chocolate and Pomegranate. My favourite of the bunch was the Pistachio Topped Salted Chocolate Tartlets. They were the perfect combination of salty and sweet in a bite.
I also sampled a bunch of items from the Food Exhibitors. Springbank Cheese had a booth at the show and were featuring six different kinds of cheese from around the globe – Coeur de Lion (France), Chevre Dorer (France), Sardo (Argentina), Vigneron (Switzerland), 6 year Cheddar (Canada), and the Gorgonzola Dolce Latte (Italy). My favourites were the Chevre Dorer and the Vigneron.
I also sampled some wedges of Ambrosia Apples and a plain, strawberry and chocolate banana chips from Oh! Naturals Flavoured Banana Chips. One of the most noteworthy and memorable items from the Food Exhibitors was the award-winning Rosemary Fusion Chocolate Tablette from Cococo Chocolatiers, the Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut Company. It consisted of milk chocolate infused with rosemary and thyme, then hand-finished with Habanero sea salt. I loved the complexity of flavours in this bar. The flavour profile is not necessarily for everyone but to me, this chocolate bar was a winner!
Since this was Winefest after all, of course, I didn’t just go to sample the food. In terms of wines, I was happy to see smaller production vineyards and lesser known wineries featured at this event. In terms of Californian reds, I particularly liked the Enkidu Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (which retails for ~$35). It was fruity and well-balanced. I was also impressed with the 2009 Dry Creek Old Vine Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley region. I thought the wine was well-structured and the flavours complex.
For Californian whites, I liked two of the wines from Bonneau Winery in Sonoma. The first was the 2009 Los Carneros Chardonnay (which retails for ~$31-$35). This chardonnay had a lot of tropical fruit flavours and a silky and smooth finish. Unlike many of the chardonnays from California, this one was not very dry and oaky at all. In fact, I thought it was actually off-dry, which is a bit unusual for a chardonnay. The second wine that I liked was actually a sweeter wine from their line up. It was the Sweet Chardonnay (which retails for ~$16-$20 for a 375-ml bottle). It was well-balanced and not overly sweet. Since it’s not overly sweet, I can even see it pairing well spicy Asian food, most fruity desserts, or even just to have on its own in place of dessert.
From the Australian offerings, I liked two wines from the Shinas Estate. We can always count on the Aussies to come up with catchy names from their wines. All of the wines from Shinas Estate have catchy names such as The Guilty (Shiraz), The Verdict (Cabernet Sauvignon), The Innocent (Viognier), and Sweet Justice (Moscato). Normally, I would tend to shy away from wines with gimmicky names but I’m sure glad I tried some of these as they were fantastic. I really enjoyed The Innocent (which retails for ~$25). This viognier was very fruity but well-balanced and not as sweet and floral as some of the viogniers I’ve had from California. Another favourite was the Sweet Justice (which retails for ~$21). It was sweet but light and is a good alternative to the traditional Moscato d’Asti.
I liked that some of the importers had brought some less common varietals for people to sample at Winefest. This was the perfect way to get wine drinkers like myself introduced to the product. Before this tasting, I had never even heard of varietals such as Franconia, Schioppettino, and Refosco. I particularly liked the 2010 Zorzettig Franconia from Northern Italy. This was a soft, fruity wine without much tannins. It was actually slightly sweet which is quite unique for a red. This would be the perfect wine to serve with spicy cuisine for the red wine drinkers. I also tried the Vinsanto, which is a dessert wine from the Greek island, Santorini. It is believed the name Vinsanto, came to be as an abbreviation of vin[o] santo[rini], which is in reference to its origin and is not to be confused with the Vin Santo of Italy, which is a totally different wine made from different varietals. Vinsanto is made from primarily Assyrtico grapes along with other varietals such as Athiri and Aidani. Since the grapes are sun-dried before being crushed, fermented and aged in oak barrels, the wine has a bit of a raisin taste to it.
There was even a local winery featured at Winefest. Spirit Hills Honey Winery is based here in Millarville, Alberta. Their specialty is honey wines (which is also known as mead). They combine organic herbs and berries in their honey wine fermentation to come up with unique blends. At Winefest, we got to sample the Wild Rose Passion (which is made with Wild Rose flower petals), the Dande (which is made with dandelions), and the Berry Bliss (which is made with black currants). Of the three, I preferred the Dande as it was well-balanced with some honey and berry notes.
There was another new product I came across at Winefest that was particularly interesting – portable wine in individual serving containers by Copa di Vino, a company based out of The Dalles, Oregon. What a brilliant concept! Each individual glass serving is equivalent to about a quarter bottle. The glasses are made of plastic so there is no worry of breakage during transport. The container is sealed with a foil top and a plastic lid so there is no worries about having to find a corkscrew. The plastic lid is handy to have in case you need to temporarily recap the glass to keep the insects out when you’re camping or having a picnic and also to prevent spillage. You can drink the wine straight out of the container so you don’t need to worry about forgetting to bring glasses. The product is available in many varietals – Cabernet, Merlot, White Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. I tried the Cabernet and to my pleasant surprise, it was actually serviceable. It is markedly better than many of the other portable wine products I’ve tasted in the past (eg. boxed wine). Most of the wine is from Washington state. I could actually see myself buying these Copa wines for camping and picnics.
I also had the opportunity to try a number of Ports at Winefest, including several from Fonseca. The ones that were most interesting to me were actually from the House of Croft. The Croft Pink Port was definitely intriguing. It is a rose style of Port, the first of its kind on the market. It is pink in color and very fruity. It is best served chilled, on ice or mixed in a cocktail. The second was a classic vintage style also from House of Croft, the 2005 Quinta da Roêda Vintage Port. This was very complex and full-bodied with lots of fruit. Of all the Ports, I had tasted at Winefest, this was by far my favourite.
The most memorable tasting for me at Winefest was the Vino Cacao from France. This product is actually fairly new to the Canadian market. I’d never noticed it on store shelves until this tasting at Winefest. I’ll be first to admit that I’m typically not fond of the wine-based chocolate liqueurs that have hit the market in recent years. But Vino Cacao was different. It’s a lot more sophisticated tasting. There are two versions – the Noir, which is chocolate infused Bordeaux red, and the Ivoire, which is a chocolate infused Bordeaux white. I liked that both of them were not overly sweet and I could really taste the intense chocolate flavour in the wine. Either of these would make a fine after dinner drink in place of dessert.
There were so many other wines and wine products that I did not get a chance to taste during the Winefest session because I ran out of time. The event didn’t seem that large initially when I first arrived, but I had trouble getting through it all in the allotted 3 hour timeslot. I’m glad though that I managed to learn about quite a number of unique wine products that I didn’t know about prior to this event. Being an avid wine drinker, I really like that this event is solely dedicated to wine and wine products only. I was able to try products that I was curious about but would normally be reluctant to buy at the store because I was unsure of how it would taste. I’m definitely looking forward to attending Winefest again next year.